Remembering Karen Huggins, Holly Courts Advocate


Neighbor Sarah Rogers tells Bernalwood about the passing of Neighbor Karen Huggins:

Neighbor Karen Huggins died of cancer in mid-June.

Karen was an activist who lived in Bernal’s Holly Courts public-housing development, and she was committed to social justice on behalf of both public-housing residents and the larger community. She frequently worked with the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Supervisor David Campos and his staff, and many Bernal neighbors and groups. She served on the Ingleside Police Station’s community police advisory board and helped author the city’s 2011 ordinance on community policing. She was president of the Holly Courts Resident Council and a tireless advocate for residents of public housing.

Karen “fought fiercely for economic and racial justice, with a twinkle in her eye and great love and humor,” says neighbor Buck Bagot.

Karen “was one of the most incredible people I’ve met,” adds Supervisor Campos. “She was brilliant, driven, and passionate. She was also a character, with a great sense of style and class. She was the kind of person who made an entrance, someone you were bound to remember. She was one of a kind, a quintessential Bernal personality.”

“Karen had a vision,” recalls Bobby Cochran, a Holly Courts resident and sergeant-at-arms of the Holly Courts Residents Council. He first met Karen when he was sweeping up broken glass at Holly Courts, and she asked if he needed a push broom. “Everything you needed, she had,” he said. After he retired from his job, she persuaded him to join the Residents Council, even though he was reluctant at first, having never participated in local politics. “You’ll learn,” she told him, advice she gave many others at Holly Courts.

Soon, he found himself traversing San Francisco to attend and speak at hearings and “meeting people I never thought I’d meet.” Karen had a vision for making Holly Courts a place that was truly a part of the surrounding neighborhood, in its appearance and in its level of safety and civility. She worked tirelessly to get safety-related issues like broken lights and security gates repaired, and she helped get the units repainted. Karen had memorized all housing-related bylaws and knew how to navigate government departments and work with city officials and staff. “I learned a lot from her,” Cochran said. “I wish she was still here to teach me more.”

Karen was “a force to be reckoned with,” said Ailed Paningbatan-Swan, director of community engagement at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. But Karen also had “a nurturing and loving side that radiated from her, rejuvenating those around her. She shared with me her struggles with her sickness while also taking care of me while I was pregnant. She called me every week to check in and made sure I was doing okay with my pregnancy, and she couldn’t wait to meet my baby. I’m truly sad that she wasn’t able to meet my son.”

Nicole Hatfield, youth coordinator (and former youth participant) at the BHNC, attributed her career choice to Karen’s influence and said, “I will never forget her spirit and tenacity to continue working in public housing and striving for her communities to flourish.”

Karen did not want people to know how sick she was, so her death came as a shock to many who knew her. As her cancer progressed, she held an emotional meeting with the Residents Council, Cochran says, explaining that she wanted them to step up, to watch each others’ backs, to trust each other, and to always remember that “you’re not in it for personal gain. You’re in it for Holly Courts, the residents, and the greater community.”

“It’s hard to imagine the world without Karen,” Supervisor Campos said in a Facebook post after her death. “San Francisco certainly will not be the same without her. I feel lucky and blessed that I got to know Karen. And I know that the best thing we can do to honor her is to rededicate ourselves to social justice and to her passion — making sure that we do right by the residents of Holly Courts and all of public housing in San Francisco.”

PHOTO: Karen Huggins

Tosan Is a Bernal-Based Menswear Business For Rad Dads


Neighbor Surya and Neighbor Nick live on stylish Ellert Street here in Bernal, in a house that has also become the headquarters for their new family-friendly menswear fashion business. Neighbor Nick wrote Bernalwood to say:

Shameless email, but that’s what husbands are for.

My wife and I met working for Old Navy HQ. She was a menswear designer there for over 7 years. After the birth of our first and (currently) only child Mikio, she made the very difficult decision to leave a career she loved and dedicate her time to raising our son.

Along this journey and specifically as I tried to find my way as a father who wanted to keep his personality but also have useful things for babies she came up with the idea to start a menswear line targeted at dads. Tosan is about celebrating great gear for the adventure of fatherhood.

100% made in America, 90% made in the Bay Area, and designed and curated right on Ellert Street in our very own beloved Bernal Heights.

The brand officially launched less than six months ago and recently had the incredible fortune of being featured on the Today Show with Carson Daly as part of a segment about 6 Father’s Day gifts that dad’s actually want.

Here’s a screen grab from that glamorous Today Show segment:

Neighbor Surya adds:

This brand really was brought to life in the few blocks surround Cortland. We have a babysitter two mornings a week. I pack my computer and supplies up and make the block and a half hike up to the village. Almost every email has been sent from Progressive Grounds or Pinhole. The guys at Progressive know my order (Beet salad, no cheese, add avocado). Aziz asks after my son and I settle into the back room. And JoEllen from Pinhole has been my biggest neighborhood cheerleader. She is so inspiring as a fellow female business owner and person in general. Her positivity is infectious!

Very cool. Check out the sexxxy Tosan collection, for that special stone-cold sexxxy daddio in your life.


PHOTO: Top, Neighbor Nick, Neighbor Surya and Jr. Neighbor Mikio, courtesy of Tosan

Bernal Artist Leah Rosenberg Uses Our City as Her Palette





It’s hard to comprehend how Bernal Heights squeezes so many remarkable artists into one not-so-big neighborhood. But apparently, we do it.

7×7 tells us about a new show by Leah Rosenberg, the same Bernal artist who created the fabtastic color wall inside Pinhole Coffee on Cortland. Pinhole’s wall represents various colors found around Bernal Heights, and Neighbor Leah’s current project explores similar ideas about riffing on colors found in the city around us. But in a rather different way. 7×7 says:

For the last two months, Bernal Heights-based artist and California College of the Arts graduate Leah Rosenberg has been painting a small storefront—three walls, a floor, a desk, a chair, and a vase—a different color every day. The whole thing, covered in a single solid hue. It’s out on Irving Street, a block from Outerlands and Trouble Coffee in the Outer Sunset, and Rosenberg decides which colors to use based on what she finds in the neighborhood: an acid yellow fence, the pistachio exterior of the Francis Scott Key Elementary School Auditorium, a light purple crab on Ocean Beach.

“I keep thinking of this one line I like, ‘And you call yourself a painter,’” Rosenberg says with a laugh, “because painting as a verb, the actual act of applying color to a surface, that is fundamentally what it is.” And yet the installation, part of Kelly Falzone Inouye’s residency space Irving Street Projects, has become something more. Locals who might otherwise walk down Judah, stroll Irving instead to see what the color of the day is (Rosenberg keeps a handy sandwich board out front). Kids come by after school to help. ol to help. Recently, Rosenberg took everyone on an “inspiration walk” to all the spots that sparked her creativity. In a way, she’s been painting the landscape of the Outer Sunset.

Check out the amazing photos of Neighbor Leah’s “Everyday, A Color”, and watch her in action at Irving Street Projects (4331 Irving St.) before the show closes on May 29. She’s also installed a new site-specific piece inside The Mill (736 Divisadero) that will be up until early July.

Bonus Linky Linky: Here is a good interview with Neighbor Leah that has terrific photos taken inside her Bernal home.

PHOTOS: “Everyday, A Color” by Leah Rosenberg. HAT TIP: Neighbor Leila

Bernal History Gets the Celebrity Treatment in The SF Chronicle



In case you missed it, there was a fun article in the fashionable Home and Garden section of last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle celebrating Bernal Heights, and the local tribe of enthusiasts from the Bernal Heights History Project who bring our neighborhood’s past into the present.

Chronicle writer Charlene Prince Birkleland begins by introducing us to Neighbor Michael Nolan, the spiritual guru of the Elsie Street Glee Club:

Michael Nolan’s home on a rolling block in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights is filled with the past. Black-and-white photos from his youth hang on the walls and family keepsakes sit on shelves, but they’re mixed in with neighborhood artifacts, like railroad tools from the late 1800s found buried in Nolan’s backyard.

A passionate genealogist and the convenor of his family reunions, Nolan is now focused on building a different kind of family tree: the genealogy of his house.

Nolan, 73, is one of many Bernal Heights residents hooked on recording the history of their homes and the neighborhood. Some homeowners might conduct this type of research during a renovation, to replicate the design features original to the property. But these self-made historians want to connect the present with the past, when neighbors were close friends and felt a strong sense of community.

“We’re pretty tight on this block,” said Nolan, who helps organize annual block parties and regular potluck dinners. “We try to support one another in times of celebration and need. It’s not easy to do. … People lead very busy lives. We do what we can on this little piece of earth.”

Bernal Heights lies between highways 101 and 280 near San Francisco’s Mission District. More than 24,000 residents live in this colorful community filled with coffee shops, restaurants and views from every hilltop. The area contained few homes until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when many were drawn to build on its stable bedrock. Now a dozen earthquake shacks, which were used as temporary housing after the 1906 quake, sit near modern, contemporary homes interspersed with updated Victorians and smaller, old cottages built in the late 1800s.

Later in the piece, we meet Neighbor Vicky Walker, high priestess of the Bernal Heights History Project, who was thrilled to learn that her home came with a spookiness pre-installed:

Walker lives on Ellsworth Street just a few blocks from Nolan […] and she’s equally immersed in learning about her home. Walker has traced the name of every owner of the Ellsworth Street residence, which was built in 1927. Her first bit of data came in 2003 on the day she moved into the home. Her husband, Wade Walker, was unloading the moving van when a neighbor came by and shared an unexpected gruesome detail: The property was the site of a 1976 husband-wife murder-suicide.

Vicky Walker was fascinated. “I’m kind of a gore hound, and I’m interested in ghosts and crimes and stuff,” she says. She later visited the library where she researched The San Francisco Chronicle archives and located stories about the crime. She learned that the wife, Lovera “Jodie” Satava, was fond of cats, just like Walker. “I’d be talking out loud to Jodie and saying, ‘I hope you like the cats.’ It’s like having ghosts you can talk to.”

Read the whole article right here.

PHOTO: Above, Vicky Walker and Michael Nolan at Pinhole Coffee last February, via Michael Nolan. Below, Holly Park Meat Market at 231 Cortland Ave, current site of Pinhole Coffee, date unknown. 

After 30+ Years, Departing Bernal Neighbor Breaks Up with San Francisco

Warm Sun After the Rains

Neighbor David lives on Coleridge, but he won’t be there much longer. He’s has lived in San Francisco since the 1970s, yet soon Neighbor David moving to Japan. It will be a big change, he says, but after all these many years it also feels like it’s time. To explain why, Neighbor David recently wrote a “break-up letter to San Francisco,” and we invited him to share it here with Bernalwood:

Dear San Francisco,

I am so breaking up with you.

When I first met you it was love at first sight. I have been with you longer than anyone I’ve ever known. You loved live music, funky art, and sideways culture. You loved to have drinks late at night. You loved late night gallery openings and performance art. You loved to play music. Funky ass music. You used to be a blues lady that was bluer than the sky right before dawn after a foggy night. “Only in San Francisco’ used to mean a black Jewish leather transvestite doing the funky chicken to Sylvester, with a straight guy wearing a jock strap at the Stud on a Friday night.

We would go out for cheap eats at Sparky’s or the Grubsteak after the bars closed. We would walk home because you couldn’t find your late night transfer and the bus would take forever anyway. We could go places. We could hang out. The Fab Mab, Nightbreak, I beam, All night dancing at the Trocadero or the deaf club (181 Club), Oasis, The farm, Wolfgangs, The Stone, Chi Chi, Nickie’s BBQ, Kennel Club, Covered wagon, Blue Lamp, Paradise. Most of them put to sleep.

We both know where you are now. As the drought tightens its grip, the water (coughcough housing) shortage serves as a metaphor for the grassroots cultural and artistic drought. Authorities give it a year before there is no more water. I am afraid that the artistic scene is pretty much parched. Unless of course you have 65 million dollars for a “members only” jazz venue. “Only in San Francisco” now means valet parking for potential buyers of the house next door. Clubs closed because it was noisy at night. Business after business closed down by jacked up rents and greed. A down payment was made for cultural indifference and it’s about paid off. Diversity diversified and moved to the east bay . Or further east. People of color are being squeezed out. Imagine the Bayview and 3rd Street as a boutique destination. Soon the bay area will be called LANO. LA of the north. The cultural landscape has changed so that there really is no place here for the likes of me. I’m not sure if I ever fit in here but for a while that was the beauty of it.. I can’t watch the SF version of the zombie techster apocalypse any longer. It’s too painful. (There is no hip in hipster)

By the way, I got a call from an old friend the other day. Her name is Japan. She said she may still have a thing for me and asked me to move in. So I am going. I will miss Bernal Heights something fierce and the friends I have made here over the years. Alas, It is time. Don’t wait up for me. I’ll leave the key under the mat. See you around.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

One Year After Alex Nieto’s Death, Bernal Family Is Transformed by Tragedy



One year ago, on March 21, 2014, Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill.

Several times during the last few months — and as recently as just last week — I have seen Alex’s parents, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, walking along the sidewalks not far from their home on Cortland. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the affect of Neighbor Alex’s parents as they walk the streets of Bernal Heights. Yet while opinions may differ on the sequence of events that transpired on the evening Alex died, there can be no doubt whatsoever about the anguish they feel after having lost their son — and that comes to the forefront for me every time I see them.

It is heartbreaking.

Mission Local captures the Nieto family’s new reality:

About to retire from her long career as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, Bernal Heights resident Elvira Nieto looked forward to her retirement. She and her husband, Refugio, had plans to surprise their son with a trip to the town of Tarimoro, in Guanajuato, Mexico, their shared birthplace.

But then on the evening of March 21, 2014, that son, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, died during an officer-involved shooting in Bernal Heights Park. Neighborhood and police versions of the story conflict radically, but what’s painfully clear is that the Nieto family’s course has changed drastically.

Rather than ease into retirement, Elvira and Refugio Nieto have a new job—they’ve become full-time activists against police violence. Today marks the one-year anniversary of their son’s death and, for them, the work is far from over.

“[Alex] would ask me, ‘What are your plans for when you retire?’ I told him the only plan is to rest, but instead this happened,” said Elvira Nieto this week. “It’s all that we’ve done. I never imagined that this is what we’d be doing.”

There is a crowdfunding effort underway by Neighbor Alex’s family and friends to support the Alex Nieto Memorial Fund and create a memorial bench for him on Bernal Hill.

IMAGE: Top, Video still of Bernal neighbors Elvira and Refugio Nieto, parents of Alex Nieto, on Bernal Hill, December 16, 2014

Cara and Joey Just Got Married on Bernal Hill


Okay, so we now know that Bernal Heights is for [all kinds of] lovers.  But rest assured: Not everyone who expresses their affections on Bernal Hill is batshit crazy.

Neighbor Abner from Alabama Street shares some lovely news about a romantic wedding that took place on Bernal Hill last weekend:

Cara is my sister-in-law, and her long time beau is Joey.  They lived in Bernal for most of the last 5 years, and the couple were married in a lovely, fairly impromptu wedding on the hill last Saturday.  As of last week, they’ve relocated to LA for a job opportunity, but they wanted to finally tie the knot — after a long engagement— with family and the great community they built here.

There was a raucous party at our place afterwards.

Big congrats and best wishes to the happy couple, and never forget


PHOTO: The wedding of Cara and Joey on Bernal Hill, via Neighbor Abner